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SENATE REPUBLICANS WANT TO make you an incredible...

May 21, 2006

SENATE REPUBLICANS WANT TO make you an incredible offer. Not only will they restrict your right to free speech, they'll stop you from marrying whom you please. That's two constitutional amendments for the price of one, both aimed at shedding those unwanted civil rights. And all you have to do is give them your vote.

But wait, there's more! For the low, low price of your future health, Republicans are offering bills aimed at limiting or banning stem cell research. And they would have liked to slip you each $100 to make up for the high price of gas, but they had to give up that plan when the allegations of naked pandering became too embarrassing even for them.

The reason for this Ronco-like flurry of legislation is that with elections imminent and polls showing that even conservatives are getting fed up with the party, Republicans need to energize their base. It's a strategy that has worked well in the past, for both parties, though seldom has it been so desperate.

The latest chum tossed over the side of the ship of state is a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Thursday on a party-line vote. All 10 Republicans on the committee are surely aware that there is no chance of it winning the two-thirds vote needed for approval by the Senate. That makes it a perfectly safe way to accomplish nothing while stirring up social conservatives into a feeding frenzy.

More frightening is that one of the conservatives' perennial get-out-the-vote chestnuts might actually be on the verge of getting somewhere. Last week, an amendment to ban flag burning was sent to the Senate floor, and it is believed to be only one vote shy of the 67 needed to pass. (It has already passed in the House.) The amendment is closer than ever to ratification because Democrats, tired of being painted as unpatriotic for turning it down, are finally folding.

Nice as it would be to get this out of the way so it doesn't keep wasting the Senate's time every two years, a flag-burning ban is a terrible idea, striking at a rare practice that is nonetheless a powerful form of speech protected by the 1st Amendment. Democrats -- particularly Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who has supported a law but not an amendment to ban flag burning -- should consider the effect on their own base if one more of them caves in.

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